TBtB: St. Louis Cardinals

Now, it’s quite possible there is some obscure law in Missouri that says the home of the Cardinals must be named after the first family of bland American beer. But, screw it, let’s take some chances.

The National League’s most successful franchise has been playing in its current home for a little more than a decade, when new Busch replaced old Busch, which likely was the crème de la crème of the cookie-cutters, which is a complisult of the highest order.

Nothing much has changed with the relocation a few hundred feet south. The Cardinals still win a lot of games there, because that’s what the Cardinals always do. The club’s fans love the team, and themselves. But they pack the place every year.

It’s unquestionably a great baseball town, and a great baseball town with a rich history warrants a stellar name for the old ballyard.

Ballpark History

Built: 2006

Capacity: 45,529

Name: Busch Stadium 2006-present.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city: Busch Memorial Stadium 1966-2005, Sportsman’s Park 1920-1966 (named changed to, you guessed it, Busch Stadium, 1953-1966), Sportsman’s Park II 1893-1920 (park also known as League Park, 1899-1911, Robison Field 1911-197, Cardinal Field 1917-20, Sportsman’s Park (1882-1892).

Distinctive Features: A better view of the city’s most famous landmark than the old enclosed building once offered; outside Gate 3 is a duck-billed statue of Cardinals great Stan Musial, while odes to lesser St. Louis greats sit outside the team store; Gate 3 entrance designed to look like Eads Bridge over the Mississippi; so much red.

Ballpark Highlights:

In 2006, the year it opened, the home team returned to Busch with the World Series tied at one game apiece and rolled off three straight World Series victories to defeat the Detroit Tigers for the title.

In Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Cards rallied from a two-run deficit in the ninth, then another two-run deficit in the 10th, before David Freese’s homer in the 11th sent the Fall Classic to a Game 7. The Cards went on to win their 11th championship one night later.

In one of the more bizarre endings to a World Series game in history, future terrible Red Sox player Allen Craig scored the game-winning run on an obstruction call on former terrible Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, allowing the home team to take a 2-1 series lead over Boston in the 2013 Fall Classic. P.S. – it was the right call.

In 2014, the Cardinals promoted Chris Correa to scouting director, choosing the internal option over Elliott Anderson, Julian Assange and several members of Anonymous.

 

75 Percent Less Fat: 45

On a blog that’s devoted mostly to baseball, a Joe Jackson mention is typically going to be a reference to the sport’s tragic anti-hero, the Say it Ain’t So guy who was given a permanent ban for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.

But this isn’t Shoeless Joe we’re talking about. Rather, it’s a Joe Jackson with some dandy footwear on Look Sharp! The exclamation point knew what it was talking about.

The debut album from the Englishman was a revelation from the first single, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” even if it made little wave upon its initial release. A subsequent pressing caught on, however, and was viewed, then and now, as a classic. Jackson’s debut disc was a magical blend of punk zip and pop sensibilities, with a healthy dollop of humor.

Though he followed this one up with the similar, I’m the Man, Jackson’s career was marked more for its chameleon nature, with the pianist dabbling in various styles over the years. And though he would argue strongly against it, he never surpassed his maiden effort.

Highlights include the lead track, One More Time; a slam on media infantilism 30 years before it became a regular thing in Sunday Papers; the delightful Happy Loving Couples, and the speedy closer, Got the Time.

 

Important Information:

Name: Joe Jackson, Look Sharp!

Released: 1979

Record Company: A&M

Running Time: 36.28

Track Listing:

  1. One More Time
  2. Sunday Papers
  3. Is She Really Going Out with Him
  4. Happy Loving Couples
  5. Throw it Away
  6. Baby Stick Around
  7. Look Sharp!
  8. Fools in Love
  9. (Do the) Instant Mash
  10. Pretty Girls
  11. Got the Time

 

Yearn for the Cup

Perhaps it’s simply a byproduct of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s approach, where each and every hairbrained idea for the game is given a public test drive, but there has been a significant number of “what to change about baseball” pieces being written lately. I advanced my own idea a few days ago, reducing the distance between the bases, to change the offensive approach so prevalent now. But even though I think that plan might be the only way to restore offensive balance, it’s not something I’d jump into until other less drastic measures were taken and proved inadequate.

Moreover, for the most part, there’s really nothing about the game that couldn’t simply be fixed by just putting serious, effective pace-quickening measures in place. That isn’t reducing commercial time or changing the intentional walk rule. It comes down to three things: throw the damn ball, stay in the damn box, and quit congregating on the damn mound. MLB announced half-assed steps to address the third, but without any concerted effort at the first two, the games will continue to creep along at the snail’s rate they’re at now.

Other than that, the on-field product mostly doesn’t need serious fixing. But there are other ways to deliver the game that could generate new interest from both the casual and hardcore fan alike.

My idea would be to borrow from the boys across the pond. During the various soccer seasons in the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy, the campaigns are also broken up by the occasional tournament. The Champions League. The Euros, the World Cup, etc., are often played midseason. These don’t detract from the Premier League or La Liga chases. It’s just bonus football.

Why can’t baseball do something similar? Why not introduce the North American Cup, a season-long tournament for professional baseball throughout organized ball here.

Here’s how I see it playing out: The High A season starts with two 15-team tournaments, with the two events broken down by parent-club affiliation. The games could be played over the course of a weekend at two sites (with the host clubs getting the bye each year). And if you can find a way to pull the Rookie League and low-A teams into the mix, more’s the better.

The champions of each Single A tournament then advance to the Double A tournament a month later, to be played under the same format (though now there will be no need for byes, as each field will have 16 teams). The winners, naturally, advance to play in the Triple A tournament in July.

Finally, over the course of five Mondays in late July, early August (when many MLB teams are just playing out the string), the tournament is resumed at the major league level. The league will schedule no regular season games on those Mondays (the schedule can be reduced to 154 games as part of the plan), allowing attention to be focused entirely on the Cup. Games can be played at home fields or a single site.

The NA Cup would provide more than a few benefits, besides just additional baseball with something on the line. First, it would give the many out-of-the-running teams a second chance at doing something meaningful during the season. And the inclusion of two minor league teams, who would on occasion knock off a big-league opponent to advance to the second round (since this is baseball), would deliver the Cinderellas that make the NCAA basketball tournament so exciting. And if you provide a nice financial incentive along the way, you’ll get some buy-in from the players.

We don’t need to gimmick up the game by putting a runner on second to start the 11th, or allow any three players to hit in the ninth, two cockamamie plans that have been tossed out recently. A single-elimination tournament is a dramatic change from the 162-game grind, but it would remain the same great game at its core.

It’s Time to Try 87

“Ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection,” Red Smith.

 

As much as it pains me to say, Red was wrong. And I’m a guy who once had a conversation with his ghost.

To be fair, in Red’s day, there was no reason to believe his comment was inaccurate. But as the game we both love has developed, it’s quite obvious that the balance is simply off, at least at the big league level.

Hitters in MLB have discovered something in the last 10 years. Swinging hard, every time, is the best course of action. Choking up or cutting down the swing with two strikes to put the ball in play is no longer the operating philosophy in a big league batter’s box. If you’re going to offer at a pitch, then don’t hold anything back. Once an approach reserved only for sluggers, both the undisciplined Kingman types and the patient Thomes, this philosophy is now common across the major leagues.

And, quite frankly, it works. Hitting the ball hard is simply the best way to success. Defenses are too good and too smart to simply hope that getting wood on the ball will pay off often enough.

In a vacuum, the at bat that ends with a swing and miss is still less valuable than one that results with the ball in play. Even accounting for the occasional double play, the opportunity for a flare to left or an infield hit, a miscue by the shortstop or even an advancement out tilts in favor of BIP vs. strikeout.

But those aren’t the only two options. Swinging hard and connecting produces hard contact, which is more likely to result in singles, doubles, triples and homers. And when you swing and miss, as will often happen, the batter often gets another chance to swing again, or to reach ball four.

Yet this is, in one sense, wrong. If hitting the ball hard is the best outcome when you swing, then swinging and missing should be the worst. And not only is this true on a philosophical level, it’s also accurate on an aesthetic one. Something we all knew in little league is just as true for MLB: The game is better when the ball is in play.

So how do we fix this? How do we get out of this all or nothing approach and get back to a more balanced game? You’ll read many suggestions, including but not limited to adjusting the strike zone (bigger or smaller), adjusting the batter’s boxes, making the bat handles thicker and, of course, making the ballparks bigger.

The latter two suggestions should help cut down on homers. But I’m not sure any of those things really change the equation when it comes to approach. It will still make sense to swing as hard as possible, even if the outcome is less likely to be four bases.

What needs to happen, to alter outcomes, is to increase the gap between putting the ball and play and failing to do so. Swinging and missing must hold a larger penalty than it does now. And the only way I think can truly achieve that is to adjust the distance between the bases, cutting the gap down to 87 feet or even lower.

If you reduce the distance, infielders will have no choice but to move in a few steps to counteract that, as the current depth would result in too many infield hits. If the infielders are playing closer to home, it will lead to more ground balls and line drives getting through. You’ll also see more balls dropping behind them, as the gap between the infielders and outfielders shouldn’t decrease (ideally, you’d pair the change in distances with the deeper fences, to truly maximize the value of the ball in play, and player speed would become a more important commodity).

Now, changing the distances between the bases would be a major shift in the sport, and I would advise that other efforts be taken before tinkering with Red’s Ideal. I’m just not sure any of those other changes will produce the desired effect.

Going Green: Red’s visit

This one needs some explanation. The week before this column ran, I wrote a piece where I pretended some high school athletes had make disparaging remarks to me. I thought it was obvious that the kids had not said those things, but I was simply imagining how awful my job would be were I to be treated that way. Some parents were offended that these young people spoke to me that way, and the parents of the kids were upset people were coming to that conclusion (in, retrospect, while I did point out on two separate occasions that the comments were fictional, I could have done a better job of conveying that).

   Feeling bad that these young athletes were being blamed for something they hadn’t done (they had agreed to let me concoct the fictional scenario when I explained what I was doing), I wanted to correct that mistaken interpretation. My editors didn’t feel like I needed to, arguing the proper conclusion was obvious from my original column. I came up with this solution, which my editor-in-chief grudgingly allowed.

 

A helpful visit from a legend

Column for The Republic, Columbus 1993

 

It had all the makings of a perfect evening.

I was sitting at home with the couch to myself. To my left was a six-pack of Jolt Cola. On my right, a full box of Crunch Berries, ready to be eaten dry.

And on the tube was my favorite show, “American Gladiators.”
A knock on the door momentarily interrupted my tranquility.

Until I answered it. For standing on the other side was legendary dead sportswriter Red Smith.

“Hey Red, how are you? Glad you could drop by.”

“My pleasure, Sparky.” (Red, for some reason, always calls me Sparky.)

“Come on in. Make yourself at home.”
“Hey, ‘Gladiators,’ cool. I love Nitro,” Red exclaimed.

“Me too. Care for a Jolt?”

“No, I’m already wired. Thanks for the offer, though,” Red said, removing his new Nikes as he settled beside me on the couch.

“Red, I’m glad you came by. I have a question about sports writing you might be able to help me with.”

“I already said all there is to know about sports writing,” he said. “You know, ‘sit down at a typewriter, open a vein and bleed.’”
“I tried that. But we don’t use typewriters any more. And all that blood seeped into my computer terminal and short-circuited the system.”

“That could be a problem.”

“No, my question concerns a hypothetical situation,” I told him. “Have you ever written a story or column that you thought was a little clever, a little bit funny, but still got your point across.”

“No, I got to be legendary by just writing garbage.”

“Sorry, stupid question. What I really want to know is: When you wrote such a piece, did any subscribers ever read it differently than the way you wrote it? And by reading it differently, draw conclusions that put the story’s subjects in a questionable light?”

“Why don’t you cut out the hypothetical stuff and tell me the details,” Red said.

“Well, I recently wrote a column that I thought was clear, but was interpreted differently by a large number of readers. I attempted to use a fictional setting to illustrate the absurdity of a situation developing in the professional sports world. But some folks took the fictional comments I attributed to local athletes as genuine.”

“Ah, a fictional setting, fictional comments. Always a gamble,” he said.

“I realize that now. So how do you incorporate them into a story without running the risk of upsetting some readers?”

“As I see it,” he began. “If you plan to use a fictional setting, you must make absolutely certain that setting can’t possibly be mistaken for the truth.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Although I can’t think of a setting that unbelievable offhand.”

“You work on it, Sparky. Well, I guess I’d better be leaving. I’m supposed to go inline skating tomorrow with Grantland Rice,” Red said, timing his exit with Mike Adamle’s closing remarks on Gladiators.

 

 

 

A Crisis Actor’s Lament

 

People think it’s so easy. They look up on the screen and they see an Emma Gonzalez or a David Hogg stealing the scene, and they just assume that anyone can land that kind of opportunity.

Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work that way. It takes years of work, innate talent and a whole lot of luck. And for most of us, it simply never happens.

Look at me. I’ve been at this for 15 years. I’ve gotten some credits here and there, but nothing bigger than a little Off-Broadway* work a few years back. But here I am, still plugging away.

I can remember the exact day I knew I wanted to be a crisis actor. I was a 10-year-old kid playing in my living room while my parents watched the Channel 6 Action News team. In between slaying stories, the blond anchor du jour mentioned a protest being held over a bogus gay bashing. I sat mesmerized as the confident performers feigned outrage and sprinkled faux tears. A false flag was planted in me that very day.

But the road to stardom is a long, cruel one. For every 12-year-old Mike playing 3-year-old “Kaio” who goes viral, there are a hundred of us in the shadows. Men and women alike, living on the fringes, trying to beat the odds. I’ve taken all the usual part-time gigs that gave me time to pursue my true calling. I’ve stood in the median selling fake newspapers. I waited tables in the basement of the Comet Ping Pong restaurant. I even spent some time on the cleanup crew for Hilary Clinton’s EDT (Enemy Dispatch Team). Anything to pay the bills.

More than once I’ve been tempted to quit, to pack up my things and satisfy my landlords (mom and dad) by putting my biological engineering degree from Berkeley to use. I’ve got a standing offer to do water “treatment” work up in Portland.
But I’m not there yet. I might go two weeks without a phone call, text or any other nibble. But just as I’m on the verge of giving up, I’ll get a call from my agent – they want me to read for Soros. That’s the kind of promise that keeps a guy hanging in there.

It hasn’t been all empty. I’m one of the first guys a director will call when he needs to do a quick bus-in. I was the No. 3 lead in a small production of “GMOs will kill us all” a couple of years back. Oh, and I was a Pink Hat understudy in November of 2016. Just enough work to wet the whistle, I guess.

If anything does push me out of the business, it’s this move toward amateurism. These skinflint directors keep wanting to offer resume credit in lieu of cash. The day I consider selling out that way is the day I’m no longer a crisis actor. Have some respect for the craft, people.

Despite the odds, I still believe I’m going to make it. Give me the right role, and I’ll knock it out of the park. Sure, I’m a little too old to play a pretend high schooler after a Democrat-orchestrated shooting. And every time I’ve auditioned for a Dreamer Success Story fictional piece, I’ve gotten the same “Too Dolezalian” feedback from the producers. But let me sink my teeth into a meaty “man pretending to be grieving over his not-real sister who was never roughed up by Neo Nazis in the first place,” role and I’ll make you forget Burt Loughlin.** I think I’m perfect for these “phony veteran who gives up guns he never owned,” spots that have just taken off in the last few weeks. And I know, down to my core, that if you ever stick me in front of a green screen with Chris Cuomo occupying the other half of the picture, well, virality – thy name is Dan.

So, I keep on. Dreaming of the day I stroll across the stage to accept my well-deserved best crisis acting Golden Globe Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.*** It’s my destiny.

*Literally. Our Occupy string-pullers had hysterically planned a big anti-corporate greed protest near the financial district, and the cops kept telling us to “Get the f*** off Broadway.”

**See, I told you I’m good.

***Good Lord. Surely our globalist overlords could have tried to hide things a little bit better there, don’t you think?

Mass Fatality Fatalism

There is a bizarre sense of fatalism that surrounds these horrific mass shootings. Following each one, the cry from one side of the argument is there was nothing this law or that law could have done to prevent it.

In a very narrow sense, they may be right. We don’t like to admit it, but a motivated individual hell-bent on violence, and unconcerned with his (I don’t think we have to worry about the gender of the pronoun here) well-being will be able to do a great deal of damage before he’s stopped. Neither a well-meaning gun regulation from the left, or a well-armed good guy from the right is going to eliminate all of these shootings.

Yes, this isn’t a problem in other countries. But we simply have too many guns in the hands of the public, and the public is simply too heavily invested in the culture of firearms to think we can eradicate them.

But simply because these horrific incidents may still take place is not a reason to throw up our hands and do nothing, which has been the modus operandi for Republicans in Congress for far too long. Or, to believe the only possible solution is MORE GUNS.

Instead of worrying whether we can eliminate them all (which, of course, should be the goal), we should perhaps strive to limit the number that take place. Or mitigate the carnage when one happens. Or try to make a dent in the hundreds of shooting deaths, whether via homicide, suicide or accident, each and every day that aren’t part of a mass event. The Florida tragedy captures our attention and re-triggers the calls for some action, but it’s the everyday gun violence that is the true societal ill.

How?

Perhaps we can take steps to keep the mentally ill from legally obtaining firearms. Or keep them out of the hands of people on the terror watch list. Could we have a better system of regulating gun shows and other sales? Maybe we can do a better job of following the weapons out there, or do a better job tracking the potential risk who begins stockpiling them. Require the owners to demonstrate some minimum of proficiency in handling them, or some understanding of gun safety before selling/licensing them. Possibly certain weapons whose only function is to kill lotsa people, lotsa fast can be reduced in the marketplace. Or maybe, and I know this is crazy talk, we can allow the CDC to study the causes and effects and correlations of gun violence, treating it as the public health issue it most clearly is. You know what they say, the only way to stop a nosy scientist with a slide rule is a well-heeled lobbyist with Congressmen on speed dial.

We don’t do any of these things. Not because Americans are opposed to them. A majority to super-majority of Americans, including gun owners, support many if not all of those things listed above. But we don’t do any of them because we have allowed a major element of public health policy to be written and decided and by the trade group representing gun manufacturers. Washington, D.C. lawmakers have abdicated their responsibility to seek out solutions to the scourge of gun violence to the NRA lobbyists filling their campaign coffers.

Thoughts haven’t worked. Prayers may have eased the pain of the mom who lost her son yesterday, but they haven’t stopped tomorrow’s disaffected high school student or disgruntled worker or angry white supremacist from taking out his rage on unsuspecting Americans tomorrow. And the next citizen good guy with a gun who stops one of these bad guys with a gun in the course of a mass shooting will arguably be the first.

We are the most heavily armed advanced nation in the world, by orders of magnitude. We are also the advanced nation with the highest per capita levels of gun violence, again, by orders of magnitude. Fighting fire with fire simply has not worked.

What will? I don’t know. None of us knows for sure. The problem is, we’re not allowed to even ask all of the damn questions.